The Bulletin

ERA advocate arrested for exposing breast released after three nights in jail

By: - February 21, 2019 1:23 pm

Capitol Police covered Michelle Renay Sutherland with jackets before leading her away and charging her with a single count of indecent exposure Monday during a protest in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

A woman arrested Monday after exposing her breast in front of the Capitol will be released Thursday following three nights in jail, according to her defense attorney.

Richmond District Court Judge Lawrence Cann III had ordered Michelle Sutherland, a 45-year-old resident of of Brooklyn, N.Y., held without bond until her March 21 trial on a misdemeanor count of indecent exposure. She had been protesting in support of the Equal Rights Amendment and was dressed as Virtus, who is depicted on the state seal with a breast exposed as she stand triumphantly over Tyranny.

Cann reversed his decision during a hearing Thursday after Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring and Sutherland’s lawyer, David Baugh, submitted a joint request that she be released on personal recognizance.

Baugh said during the Thursday hearing, which was not listed in online court dockets, that Cann took the unusual step of explaining his reasoning.

“I’ve never seen it before in my life,” said Baugh, a longtime defense attorney who is representing her on a pro-bono basis. “The judge explained that when she had her arraignment, it’s by television, the only thing he had in front of him was a warrant and the warrant said that she made an obscene display of her body.

“There’s not a backstory, no context, nothing referencing free speech. … It looks to him like she’s a flasher and because she doesn’t have any ties to Virginia, the judge is not going to grant bond.

“He didn’t apologize, but he did explain it. … I was really kind of surprised.”

Baugh said Sutherland “is being released as we speak.”

She was released with no bond but will owe the court $1,500 if she fails to appear for her court date, Baugh said.

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association. Contact him at [email protected]